Can you drive with Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

Blogger and radio presenter Ross Lannon has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and is a wheelchair user. He has used the Motability Scheme to have an adapted car ever since he passed his test 10 years ago. In this interview with journalist Chloe Tear, he shares his experiences of having a Motability Scheme car and the freedom he gets from driving.

As soon as we start speaking, Ross Lannon is keen to say that learning to drive “changed [his] life”.

Self-described as a shy person, having a car means Ross has felt independent and confident enough to get out into the world and do what he wants to do. “Over the years, my car has enabled me to work, socialise and travel in ways that I never thought I could,” he says.

It also allows him to visit his favourite place, the beach. Ross admits that he wouldn’t even need to get out of the car, just the fact he was near the sea would be really relaxing. He often would use the time to do work on his laptop or read a good book.

Learning to drive with Spinal Muscular Atrophy

But it wasn’t always plain sailing. Two weeks before his driving test, the car he was learning to drive in malfunctioned. This resulted in him having an accident and the car was taken off the road. Due to the availability in his local area, that was the only adapted vehicle he had access to.

Ross unfortunately had to cancel his test. But this wasn’t the end of his driving journey. He started the process of getting his own Motability Scheme car and about a year later he was back on the road! He passed his test first time round and didn’t get a single minor.

He says: “despite my original setback, I am so proud I didn’t give up”.

Making your Scheme vehicle work for you

When asked about adaptations, Ross acknowledges that there are lots of different kinds – sometimes it can be about trial and error and seeing what works for you.

Ross drives a specially adapted vehicle using “space drive” hand controls. He remains seated in his wheelchair and enters the vehicle via the boot. He is able to do this as the flooring has been purposely lowered to his specification.

Ross explains: “All controls are in reaching distance as I have limited muscle in my arms. My driving system includes a mini steering wheel, as well as an accelerator and brake lever. My car is also an automatic which makes life a lot easier. The handbrake has been transformed into a push button, and my side doors and ramp are also controlled via an electric fob button.”

Find out more about the adaptations the Motability Scheme offers here.

The adaptations to his car were carried out before he took delivery of the vehicle. Ross was keen to highlight that the team were so helpful and willing to tailor everything to his own needs.

“Having a car that is purposely designed for me gives me to so much confidence when out and about on the road,” he says. “It gives me freedom and enables me to live as independently as possible.”

Adapting for the future

Part of living with SMA means that your abilities can deteriorate. This can mean the adaptations you use change over time to enable you to continue to drive.

“There are so many amazing adaptations out there, which I am sure I will explore when the time comes,” says Ross. “As and when my needs change, I am confident there will be a suitable alternative to enable me to continue driving.”

I suppose that’s the great thing about adaptations and the Motability Scheme, they can continue to change with you.

The road to freedom

Ross’ advice to others is: “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”.

He acknowledges that driving is not for everyone, regardless of your disability. However, he wants to reassure people that there are so many amazing adaptations out there. He says: ”don’t be put off by the misconceptions or fears in your head.”

Despite his initial anxieties, learning to drive was one of the best decisions he ever made: “It’s given me so much confidence and independence – I’ve never looked back since!”

Ross Lannon is a blogger and radio presenter from Cornwall. You can find out more about him on his blog A Life on Wheels.

About the Motability Scheme

The Motability Scheme enables you to exchange all or part of your mobility allowance for leasing a car, mobility scooter or powered wheelchair. There are also hundreds of different adaptations available to suit your needs.

Find out if you can join using our eligibility checker and request an information pack.

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